Imagine, one grandmother in the Philippines mixing soy sauce, crushed garlic―bathing chicken legs, thighs, then grilling them over an open flame. She carries on a tradition some refer to as the national dish, adobo. Flash across the Pacific into another kitchen in the US; a young woman preps for a Home Ec. exam, certain she’ll be tested on the bane of her existence: pie crusts. She rolls dough over and over, just thin enough, perfecting her edge curl, determined to pass. As a result, she becomes a pie queen. Her specialty: lemon merengue. These two women, worlds apart―loving their children in different languages, raise a young woman and man who find each other and make a life of their own, centered on family and tradition. Naturally, the couple looks to their mothers as guides while they build their own family. It is in their kitchen the two traditions meet.
Picky eaters abound in Jon and Sylvia’s family of ten, and most nights some eat just sides and skip the main dish. There is only one meal everyone in the family gobbles up. On nights Sylvia serves adobo, each plate fills, fingers coated in sticky soy-garlic goodness, mouths too full to talk. The meal is complete when Sylvia slices into a steaming lemon merengue pie, which never cools to the recommended temperature because the family cannot wait that long before cutting into it.
Grandma Lyons’ lemon pie is beloved and often requested, but once you know she adds about twice the lemon juice the original recipe calls for, so much that she has to up the corn starch to keep it from becoming lemon syrup, you wonder if she was trying to please a particular palate. Then you hear how Grandpa Lyons eats whole lemons with a straight face, and the picture begins to paint itself. This recipe was born out of love, and Sylvia renders her own version carrying through that same affection as she and her daughters flitter around talking over one another in an environment that seems more like controlled chaos than a kitchen. On closer inspection, though, you notice the oldies humming in the background and the grace with which each woman moves through her task, as if they planned it all ahead of time. The room is cheery and inviting and makes you want don an apron and sidle into their groove.
Then Sylvia busts out the flat whisk and explains Grandma Lyons brought it from Germany as a gift. At first, Sylvia wondered what the heck was so great about this spatula-shaped whisk, but her mother-in-law insisted it was the “best thing ever.” Trusting the pie queen, Sylvia put the whisk to work and now insists it is in fact the best thing ever for merengue, pancake batter, etc. This whisk is so popular, all of Sylvia and Jon’s children want it willed to them; it may end up a community tool spending a month at each child’s home on a rotating schedule.
Although their mothers came from rather different cultural traditions, Sylvia and Jon have taken their unique upbringings and created their family with its own traditions. Sylvia home-schools the children who still live with them, teaching them about their own family history and their ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower while encouraging them to embrace their traditional food culture. In the Lyons’ home, East meets West on tongues and skin as this family reveres long-lasting traditions while making new ones.
Chicken Adobo (Serves 6)
4 lbs chicken thighs and/or drumsticks
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1/2 garlic bulb, peeled and sliced thin
2 cups cooked rice, to serve
In a large pot, bring chicken, vinegar, soy sauce, water and garlic to a boil then reduce heat and simmer gently until chicken is fully cooked (about 45 minutes). Stir occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to marinate a few hours or overnight. Skim off fat. Barbeque or broil chicken until crispy and browned, basting with sauce and turning a few times. Serve with steaming hot rice and extra sauce to pour over rice and chicken. (If the sauce has jelled, just warm it through before serving)
Lemon Meringue Pie (makes 1 9 inch pie so if you want to fill your two pie shells from recipe below, double filling recipe)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups water
1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
lemon zest grated from all lemons juiced
2 tb butter
4 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)
4 egg whites (from previously separated eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
note: Sylvia and the girls microwave the filling for the pie but you can do it the good old fashioned way, in a saucepan, which is how I'll be doing it!
1. Microwave first four ingredients for 7 minutes until clear. Separate eggs and stir in egg yolks one at a time. Microwave another 4-5 minutes until thickened. Add butter and stir until melted. Stir in lemon peel and lemon juice. (Add more juice if it is not tart and lemony enough). Pour into a baked pie crust (recipe to follow).
2. Make meringue by whipping the 4 egg whites with 1/2 tsp cream of tartar until stiff. Gradually add sugar and beat until glossy. Mound the meringue on top of the filling, sealing the edge. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until meringue is slightly browned. Cool thoroughly before serving.
for pie crust: (makes two 9 inch pie crusts)
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup shortening
1/3 cup cold water
Combine flour and 3/4 tsp salt; add shortening. Beat at low speed of electric mixer or in food processor until pieces are the size of small peas. Add ice cold water; beat at low speed just until dough forms (15-20 seconds). Form dough into a ball with hands. Divide into 2 balls. Roll out and finish as for pastry or single or double crust pie. Makes 2 9 inch single crust pastries or 1 9 inch double crust pastry.